Sooner or later, Western countries will be forced to follow different and maybe conflicting policies regarding the Libyan crisis.
The international community has been dealing with the Ukraine-Russia war since the early days of 2022 and showed little interest in other regional crises, including the Syrian and Libyan crises in the Middle East.
However, we should not forget that other protracted conflicts continue to determine international politics. The Syrian crisis has been brought to the attention of the international community mainly due to Türkiye’s efforts since Ankara has been considering the developments in the northern part of the country as an imminent threat to its territorial integrity and political independence.
But compared with other regional crises, the Libyan crisis seems quite dormant. There is no progress in the crisis and no urgency for the international actors.
However, the Libyan crisis continues to become a security problem for the wider region. Not only the North African countries, but also many Mediterranean, European and African countries have been significantly influenced by the crisis.
Therefore, many external powers continue their struggles to shape Libya’s future through direct or indirect intervention through their proxies on the ground.
Especially security, migration, oil and radicalism are among the main problems that emanate from the crisis and have great impact on many regional and global powers. For instance, while Russia continues to maintain its military existence in Libya, which acts independently and serves Russia’s regional interests, Greece has been threatening the legitimate government of Tripoli for its rapprochement with Türkiye, the main supporter of the government.
Who to support?
Most of the time, observers focus on the policies of the external powers and “whom they support” in the crisis. However, it is also vital to understand and analyze “who they are against.” This is the case in the Libyan crisis. Most states follow policies in line with the positions of other international actors.
It seems that most global powers, including the Western countries and Russia, are not considering resolving the Libyan crisis in favor of the legitimate government based in Tripoli, mainly to prevent Türkiye from maintaining its effectiveness in Libya.
Therefore, they all provide direct or indirect support to the anti-Turkish and authoritarian actor, putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar. These global powers expect Haftar to maximize the interests of external powers and prevent Türkiye’s presence in the country.
Most external, mainly the global powers, want to see an “unresolvable Libya” or a “divided Libya,” which will pave the way for their intervention. Many regional and global powers force the domestic actors in the crisis to the brink of collapse to make them dependent on certain external powers.
Within this context, whenever we ask whether resolving the Libyan crisis, similar to any other regional crisis, is possible or not, we have to take the positions of external powers into consideration.
In other words, the harmonization of the interests of external powers is one of the main preconditions and therefore obstacles to resolving the crisis. Probably, the harmonization of external powers is more difficult than the harmonization of domestic actors.
Therefore, most external powers prioritize solving the presidential problem, that is, who will govern the country. In other words, most external powers undermine the preparation of a constitution, holding parliamentary elections, or the initiation of a state-building process, all of which are the bases of a permanent solution.
The Western countries have mainly lost interest in the Libyan crisis because of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the related crises they have been facing such as food and energy issues. However, Western countries are unable to overcome these increasing issues.
The more the Western countries are stuck in regional crises, the more likely they will lose their unified position toward these regional crises. Eventually, Western countries will be forced to follow different and maybe conflicting policies toward the Libyan crisis.
When looking at the positions of European countries toward the Libyan crisis, each related European state such as France, Italy and Germany pursue a different policy toward the crisis.
Türkiye’s solution efforts
Türkiye has been trying to revive the negotiations to determine a road map for a sustainable diplomatic and political solution to the crisis. During the political consultations between Türkiye and the Russian Federation held in Istanbul last week, the Turkish delegation emphasized the importance of advancing the political process in Libya.
Both sides have expressed their support for holding free, fair and credible elections based on the broadest social consensus in the country.
Moreover, Turkish officials have emphasized the importance of avoiding provocations and ending the activities carried out against international agreements in order to maintain peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region. This Turkish emphasis was against Greece’s most recent provocations toward the Libyan government.
It seems that the West, especially the European states have lost much of their interests in the Libyan crisis. At least, they have lost their effectiveness in the region. Only Greece continues to worry about the future of Libya because of the continuing presence and effectiveness of Türkiye in the region. In particular, Türkiye’s normalization in the wider region worries all anti-Türkiye actors, including Brussels and Greece.
These groups of anti-Turkish actors such as France have been trying to motivate Egypt, which does not want a powerful Türkiye in the region, to increase its effectiveness in Libya.
However, a possible normalization process between Türkiye and Egypt and the need for policy recalibration of the regional states may require a promising and constructive process in the Libyan crisis.
Muhittin Ataman is Director of Foreign Policy Studies at SETA Foundation. He is a professor in the Department of International Relations at Social Sciences University of Ankara. Ataman is also the Editor-in-Chief of Insight Turkey.